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May 7, 2005
Chimeras And Strawmen

I normally avoid reading Maureen Dowd with the same enthusiasm I avoid reading junk mail; typically, one learns nothing and the entire exercise only annoys the reader. Once in a while, in a fit of masochism, I check out her latest rant just to see whether she's improved at all. If today's column gives any indication, Dowd may actually be getting worse with time.

Today's screed manages to be racist, condescending, and just flat-out foolish all at once, with a dash of self-congratulatory classical references thrown in for good measure. Dowd starts off by writing about chimeras -- cross-bred animals that bioengineers have created in labs as part of cloning research -- and manages to transform the subject into a hysterical rant about the coming theocracy.

First, though, Dowd has to show off a little about her grasp of Greek mythology:

I've seen just about every werewolf, Dracula and mermaid movie ever made, I have a Medusa magnet on my refrigerator, and the Sphinx of Greek mythology is a role model for her lethal brand of mystery.

So when chimeras reared up in science news, I grabbed my disintegrating copy of Edith Hamilton's "Mythology" to refresh my memory on the Chimera, the she-monster with a lion's head, a goat's body and a serpent's tail: "A fearful creature, great and swift of foot and strong/Whose breath was flame unquenchable."

Ohhh-kay. She wants to make the point that the Greeks saw chimeras as unnatural, but only as a "pre-Darwinian notion". Why? Because she wants to make fun of people who believe that mixing human cells with animals to create "humanzees", among other atrocities. Dowd's prose drips with condescension as she describes the opposition to such laboratory experiments:

The U.S. Patent Office balked at an attempt last year to patent a "humanzee," a human-chimp chimera. But as the Stanford University bioethicist Henry Greely told Ms. Begley: "The centaur has left the barn." ...

While research on chimeras may be valuable, the [NAS] guidelines, in a fit of "Island of Dr. Moreau" queasiness, suggested bans on inserting human embryonic stem cells into an early human embryo, apes or monkeys.

The idea is to avoid animals with human sex cells or brain cells, Mr. Wade wrote. "There is a remote possibility that an animal with eggs made of human cells could mate with an animal bearing human sperm. To avoid human conception in such circumstances, the academy says chimeric animals should not be allowed to mate," he explained. Human cells in an animal brain could also be a problem. As Janet Rowley, a University of Chicago biologist, told a White House ethics panel: "All of us are aware of the concern that we're going to have a human brain in a mouse with a person saying, 'Let me out.' "

So the only reason people might oppose chimeric research with human cells is that they've watched too many bad Michael York films, according to Dowd, instead of the rational ethical questions about creating life forms with highly unpredictable results. Many of us hold human life as sacred -- but Dowd's getting to that eventually.

It turns out that even half-way through her piece, Dowd hasn't gotten to the point of it yet. Next, she makes the claim that the Bush Administration has created its own dangerous chimeras (hypocrites!) by -- how does she put it? -- "injecting the cells of democracy":

President Bush's experiments in Afghanistan and Iraq created his own chimeras, by injecting feudal and tribal societies with the cells of democracy, and blending warring factions and sects. Some of the forces unleashed are promising; others are frightening. ...

The U.S. invasion also spawned a torture scandal, and its own chimeric (alas, not chimerical) blend of former enemies - the Baathists and foreign jihadists - with access to Iraqi weapons caches.

Get it? Bush created a Frankenstein's Monster when he liberated Afghanistan and Iraq from two brutal tyrannies, the latter of which has been conducting genocide on ethnic groups for over twenty years. Just this week we discovered a mass grave of over 1500 Kurdish women and children. But Dowd's argument is that democracy somehow is not only foreign to Arabs, but unnatural -- about as racist an argument that the New York Times has allowed in its editorial pages in decades. And you have to love the part about weapons caches, which obviously refers to the Gray Lady's abortive attempt to smear the 3ID over the al-Qaqaa cache that they claim disappeared into the hands of terrorists, a story thoroughly debunked by other media outlets even as the last week of the presidential campaign came to a close.

And we still haven't gotten to Dowd's point, as it turns out:

The Republican Party is now a chimera, too, a mutant of old guard Republicans, who want government kept out of our lives, and evangelical Christians, who want government to legislate religion into our lives.

But exploiting God for political ends has set off powerful, scary forces in America: a retreat on teaching evolution, most recently in Kansas; fights over sex education, even in the blue states and blue suburbs of Maryland; a demonizing of gays; and a fear of stem cell research, which could lead to more of a "culture of life" than keeping one vegetative woman hooked up to a feeding tube.

Ah, here we go! Dowd thinks that Republicans are the true chimeras, because the party has a wide range of philosophical thought! For some reason, Dowd finds that threatening, instead of the lock-step, no-dissent nature of the Leftists. Perhaps it's a security blanket for weak-minded people such as Dowd to only come into contact with people who completely agree with her. However, the existence of debate and differing views within the Republican Party does not make it a chimera; its tolerance of dissent and openness to debate on most issues gives it strength, just as dissent and debate does for America as a whole.

Dowd isn't as hysterical and incoherent as she used to be. She's actually worse.

UPDATE: Ann Althouse has much more, including patience to refer to the Federalist Papers to mock Dowd's intellectual pretensions.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 7, 2005 7:02 AM

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